An 'unfinished agenda' on sharps safety

Includes raising student awareness

There's more work to do to keep health care workers safe from needlesticks. That was the primary message of an online awareness event by Safe in Common, an organization promoting sharps safety.

About 600 people in 15 countries tuned into the conference in November; about 78% of them said needlesticks persist in their workplace. Safe in Common plans another online conference for Feb. 5 at 1 p.m. to discuss "the unfinished agenda." (More information is available at www.safeincommon.org.)

"Tremendous improvements have been made. It's a much safer climate for most of our health care workers. And yet we know there are segments of workers and settings that continue to be really quite hazardous," says Mary Foley, RN, PhD, chairperson of Safe in Common, which is sponsored by Unilife, a York, PA-based manufacturer of retractable syringes and other "advanced drug delivery systems."

It is especially important to raise awareness among students, says Foley, who was president of the American Nurses Association when President Clinton signed the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act. "They're not getting an effective introduction to the equipment, how to use it and why it matters," she says.

The needlestick safety law requires employers to involve frontline health care workers in the selection of devices, but that doesn't always happen, Janine Jagger, Ph.D., director of the International Healthcare Worker Safety Center at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville said in the online conference. "Their input is really critical," she said. "No one other than health care workers who use the devices really have the full spectrum of knowledge of which features will make a difference to them and which ones won't."

Jagger also stressed the importance of reporting and tracking needlesticks. EPINet at the University of Virginia has provided a standardized way for hospitals to report and track bloodborne pathogen exposures since 1992. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a new surveillance system for exposures in the National Healthcare Safety Network (www.cdc.gov/nhsn/hps_Exp.html).

By tracking needlesticks — where and how they occur — employers can assess their own devices and prevention programs, and they also can share information with manufacturers to spur new and better devices, said Jagger.

"So we still have a job to do," she said. "We have come a long way. We just need to push forward in an organized fashion to reach the next level of progress."